Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Bickford Oak Woods...some of the story behind the site

Now that a definite taste of winter has arrived, and there is less to find outside, it is a chance to remember the warmer, more colourful and diverse times in the field.

I have spent a fair bit of time over the year or so exploring a sizeable natural area, in west central Lambton Co, known as Bickford Oak Woods Conservation Reserve. It is about 308 ha in size as a single block of mostly forest. This property was purchased several decades ago on speculation that it would be eventually developed for commercial/industrial purposes. However that didn't happen, and while I was in my previous role with OMNR, I was approached by the owners to see if any agency would be interested in it. I had had my eye on the significance of this property for quite awhile, so I said yes, and immediately started some wheels in motion to see if a cooperative effort between conservation agencies and individuals could collaborate on its acquisition and protection.

Much of the natural drainage has not been affected, so on this predominantly clay plain, that means there is lots of water sitting on it.

As might be expected, wet woods are home to many amphibians, which are most vocal in the early spring. Here is a Western Chorus Frog, one of the more common species here, but generally declining on the overall southern Ontario landscape. It is a tiny frog, being only a couple of inches in total length. Their voices would make them seem much bigger, however.

At some points along the wetter woods, good stands of Marsh Marigold can be found in the spring.

Where there is long standing water and an open forest canopy, there are beaver. Their lodges are hard to access due to the dense vegetation, mostly the aggressive and non-native Phragmites, but there is evidence of their being in the area.
As its name implies, there are a lot of oaks here, and most grow on the drier parts of the landscape. It is interesting to see how many multi-stemmed individuals there are.
Of course oaks don't naturally grow with multi-stems. This is the result of intensive harvesting of them several decades ago. The stumps sprouted suckers and I have seen as many as 7 stems that survived.

Still other oaks, especially some that are near the edges of the woodland, are single stemmed and show an open grown character, with large low limbs.

Along the edges are some huge ant mounds. I'm not sure if they are any particular species, but they sure are evident. Some of the mounds are a metre high, and 3-4 metres in diameter.
 Large woodlands, especially oak woodlands, are favourite haunts of Wild Turkey. Oaks can be prolific producers of acorns, a favourite food. Turkeys are not often seen, especially during the hunting season, but you can see decoys up close!

Associated with this large woodland are two areas that at the time that the site was acquired, was in agricultural crop. They were planted into tallgrass prairie about a decade ago, and are coming along nicely.
Planted prairie habitat

Gray-headed Coneflower

Compass Plant

Compass Plant

Tall Coreopsis

Tall Sunflower

Dense Blazing-star
 Prairie habitat is fabulous for butterflies and other invertebrates.
Thistle with Crab Spider
Peck's Skipper on Prairie Dock buds

Great Spangled Fritillary

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Some small wetland areas have been created within the restored habitat, and wetland plants have appeared.

Monkey Flower

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
As the season progresses, schools of catfish appear. Given that this is not really directly connected to any other body of water, and even the small stream that the water of this pond runs out of, it makes one wonder how the mature fish got there in the first place to produce young.

There is lots more to be found at this wonderful site, and I plan on spending as much time as possible in this next field season.


  1. Allen, another interesting posting. I have tried to go into Bickford Woods once with my family. We were driving back from the Pinery, and I insisted that we stop. My comment is that it seems inaccessible for the average person - especially a tourist with a family. The parking lots are essentially hidden, paths are overgrown and undefined and the only entrance I could find into the forest was flooded 15 meters on either side of the trailhead. I felt this way about Clear Creek as well. Its not a complaint --- perhaps places like Bickford Woods should be only accessible to biologists and not maintained for the public... I guess it would be nice if there was some kind of accessibility rating for such places to prevent people from foolishly attempting to tour such a large and un-maintained natural area.

    1. Hi Dwayne....thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct. It isn't advertized as accessible as most protected areas, but that is largely because it is a Conservation Reserve, designed to protect the overall feature. Provincial Parks, of course, have trails and a reasonable level of facility development. Provincial Nature Reserves (a class of provincial park) is under the Ontario Parks administration, and are primarily there to protect the resource with very limited facility development. Conservation Reserves, on the other hand, are not under the Ontario Parks administration, but under the administration of the local district office of MNR&F. While some may have trails, they are not nearly as well advertized or maintained. That being said, there is no reason why a little more maintenance couldn't occur at Bickford. For what it is worth, there are some old logging roads that traverse several parts of Bickford, but the trick is to find them! The easiest way to get to one is to park at the western parking area, travel through the prairie to the woods, then follow the edge of the woods to the east and then north along the edge, and you will come to the main logging road. Other than that, the 'trail' from the eastern most parking area is next to impossible to find even when you know where it is, and is almost totally overgrown, wet, etc. I guess the bottom line is that for Conservation Reserves, it is more or less up to the individual to explore on their own. I remember years ago, a popular 'trail' guide entitled "The Pathless Woods" which was really designed to get people off a trail and into a natural area to explore. Of course in recent years there has been a push for people to stay on trails, ( e.g Point Pelee) to minimize the impacts, and that is certainly valid when an area has tens of thousands of visitors in a fragile area. But places like Bickford, which probably gets less than a couple of dozen visitors a year (in my several visits in 2015, I saw a single turkey hunter at the edge of the woods, that's other humans other than the small number of folks I was with on one occasion) wandering through the woods randomly does little or no real damage unless the persons are bent on destruction. But for a family is probably best to stick to established provincial parks and maybe a few provincial nature reserves.

      Thanks again for raising the issue, and I admit I should have been a little more explicit about this in my initial post.